Hey guys.. so that's good to know about the zinc removal by burning/melting it off. When I was buying bolts and stuff I was selecting the Stainless Steel type. Certainly there were a few things that were just zinc coated. I figured that the amounts of it were too small to cause harm. On top of that, after just 1 or 2 burns, all the metal is coated with smoky stuff. After some cookings, everything is covered with "meaty goodness" as I call it. So not sure how much of a problem it is. I did stay away from things called "galvanized" because it just appeared like it would soak things up and leave residue (and I thought that galvanized steel would have more zinc than just zinc coated.)
Regarding fire baskets.. I don't weld and it was a piece of cake to do. I just took very small bolts (stainless steel) and 2 "fender washers" (the larger discs) with 2 nuts and just used 2 or 3 of these bolts where the metal ring over lapped. Stays put just fine. Used it like 20+ times by now. All bolts and washers were I think 1/4" size.
Smoking Chicken: Whole chicken particularly comes out great if I put it on a very low grate (about 1/2 way into the barrel) and run that at 350-375 per advice from a friend. ~90 minutes later, the chicken (3 three pound birds) cooked and the skin was crispy and wonderful.
But I've also modified my smoker several times.. and it's got quite the capabilities now of cooking different ways. I added a smoke stack coming out the side of the barrel rather that straight out. I think that because of the nice draft it's creating it's allowing more moisture to get in there because the cooler air is not being given so much time to get dried out by the heat. Yet the heat control is excellent and can run in very unpredictable wind situations. Also, by not allowing the moisture to escape straight up, there is a lot of moisture that is caught in the elbow of the stack.. near the end of cooking I take it out and poor it over the meat and it just does this wonderful sizzling that makes my tummy smile. :)
I also added some removable baffles for when I'm doing something slow and don't want the heat from below to do as much direct heating. It also allows the air inside to really move around and make the heat even throughout.
Also attached picture of one of my designs to get the air moving around inside and include more moisture... I used it just once and changed my mind.. but I might get back to it some time.
Oh.. and I made another type of diffuser for when I want the heat direct, but still allows meaty goodness to drip and fall into the fire. Using angle iron, this grate also helps heat the sides of the barrel, increasing the ability to more evenly heat the inside.